Three years after the RTE Act came into effect promising free and compulsory education to children aged six to 14 years and special focus on admission and retention of children with disabilities, an NCERT study has found that disabled children in schools across states still face serious infrastructure and pedagogy handicaps.
Apart from absence of ramps and friendly toilets in schools, the larger problem that almost all disabled children face in the classroom is the absence of special teaching material and sensitive trained teachers.
In Gujarat’s Kheda district, a child with locomotor disability said he never leaves his wheelchair due to non-availability of a friendly toilet in his school.
The NCERT report — ‘Status of Implementation of RTE Act in context of disadvantaged children at elementary stage’ — says that “poor infrastructure, non-availability of appropriate furniture for children with disabilities, non-availability of special aids and appliances, poor quality of aids and appliances for children with locomotor disabilities are major challenges in the fulfilment of RTE to these children”.
The study adds that “educational materials for children with disabilities were non-existent in most sample schools. States/ UTs have very limited vision of arranging different types of educational materials for children with various disabilities”.
The 2012-13 study on children with disabilities had revealed that while 99 per cent of these children liked attending regular schools but 57 per cent of teachers were not trained to understand their special needs.
The study was conducted by the NCERT’s department of elementary education in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Jharkhand, Orissa, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and the Union Territories of Puducherry and Andaman & Nicobar islands through questionnaires and interviews with school teachers, parents of disabled children and disabled students.
Respondents in Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts said there were no Braille books, no assistive devices, no educational materials and no full-time special teachers making it extremely difficult to ensure RTE to children with visual impairments. In Visakhapatnam district, ramps and friendly toilets for children with locomotors disabilities were not appropriate.
Almost all respondents in Almora district of Uttarakhand said their schools did not have facilities and the hilly terrain further complicated their movements. In Orissa, the NCERT study says, there is unhappiness over poor quality of wheelchairs and non-supply of Braille aids despite repeated reminders.
“Wheelchairs and tricycles are supplied to children with locomotors disabilities, though these cannot be used by them due to difficult terrain in Almora district”.
“Special shoes are supplied after one year of assessment, resulting in inappropriate sizes due to growth of feet. Complaint was sent but no satisfactory action was taken,” respondents are quoted in the NCERT study.
In Kerala, children have not been provided teaching-learning materials individually despite the fact that the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has a provision for Rs 3,000 per disabled child per year.
The report notes that functionaries and teachers at state-, district- and block-levels were aware of provisions of the RTE Act to a great extent but “orientation of teachers for RTE (except in Orissa) did not include information about disadvantaged and children with disabilities”.
In Jharkhand, respondents pointed out how “there were no special teachers at school level to help children with disabilities; teachers have not been trained to teach children with disabilities; and parents do not bring their children with disabilities to school regularly”.
Sixteen of 25 head teachers/teachers in four districts of Gujarat maintained that it was extremely difficult to teach children with severe mental challenges and multiple disabilities in the classroom.
In Andhra Pradesh, teachers said that “it is difficult to ensure RTE to children with mental disabilities due to behaviour problems and very limited ability to learn. They maintained that these children should be sent to special schools. Respondents in Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts said there were no Braille books, no assistive devices, no educational materials and no full-time special teachers”.
The report notes that in Kerala “almost all respondents in both the districts said they encountered difficulties in teaching different categories of children with disabilities. They said that behaviour problem of children with mental disabilities (challenges) makes it difficult to manage classroom teaching. These teachers do not have any special training and they find themselves helpless in dealing with children with mental challenges. Two of the teachers said that in a class of 50 children, it is extremely difficult to pay attention to children with a mental challenge and they try to help these children by explaining to them personally”.